Whoís that dark brooding guy in Rang De Basanti' Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra chose him to play the confused capitalist Karan Singhania because of his vulnerable boyish looks. But Siddharth has no intentions of moving bag and baggage to Mumbai to pursue a career. ďHas Rang De Basanti been well received'Ē he asks curiously, from Down South. ďIím glad. We all worked hard on it, but specially Rakeysh Mehra and Aamir Khan. I was with the project for just six months. But they nurtured it together for three years.Ē Siddharth is practical enough to realise there isnít a clamour by filmmakers waiting for him in Bollywood. ďBut of course Iím open to good offers. The only problem,Ē he reveals shyly, ďis that Iím very picky. In five years Iíve done only five films. I like to choose my roles carefully. Thereís no point in doing work that makes you unhappy. At the end of the day youíve to look yourself in the eye.Ē
Such conviction for an actor who has been in the Tamil blockbuster, Boys (2003), and the Telugu hit, Nuvvostanante Nenodannatana (2004). Siddharth is apparently being offered a fee close to Rs 2 crore! But he isnít talking about his price, let alone doing the avalanche of films being offered to him. Excerpts:
Q: What prompted you to take on Rang De Basanti....your first Hindi film' Interestingly, I was actually steering clear of industries other than Telugu when Mehraís office called. I was very non-committal. They sent me a bound script, and thatís when things really took off. The moment I read it, I knew this was not a film to reject. In two days, I was a part of Rang De Basanti. I was moved by the script, and felt Mehra was definitely on to something.
Q: Werenít you deterred by the fact that it was an ensemble piece, and the fact that Aamir would get centrestage' I cannot possibly explain how exciting it is to hear the word ensemble piece with respect to Indian cinema. The most exciting aspect of RDB at the script stage was this very ambitiously equanimous treatment of all the protagonists. The reason I believed it could be pulled off was that Aamir was a part of it. Also, there is no centrestage in RDB. Itís a huge stage, and all of us get to run around, just doing our own thing! It always hurt me when people said unfair, accusatory things about Aamir and his attitude towards his coactorsí roles. RDB should go a long way in rubbishing these silly allegations. An individual like Aamir really does not deserve them.
Q: What was the experience of working with Rakeysh' Mehra is at the cutting edge of two very important horizons. The first is in the realm of heartfelt Indian storytelling. Mehra is Indian, period. His food, his humour, his nostalgia, all swim in hardcore India juice. Thatís why the friends in RDB jump out from the screen and bite you. They exist, all over this huge country. The second area Mehra astonishes you in is his craft. He is by far the most ambitious technical filmmaker in Indian cinema. In effect, he combines state-of-the-art film wizardry with lorry art (Horn please, ok!). As Mehra would put it, ďstuff like thatĒ.
Q: You are known as the Aamir of the South' Why have you done such a meagre body of work in five years' And do you really charge two' I am a bit of a paranoid actor. I started off as an assistant director to Mani Ratnam. Direction was passionately my ultimate dream. When I suddenly became a screen actor, I took a reality check, and promised myself to only commit to work that completely excited me. It isnít really my fault that such projects were very few in number also, I am building a CV of serious standing. Mani Ratnam, Shankar, Prabhudeva, Rakeysh Mehra...these guys make going to work so much fun. I am only five films old, five good films. As for the Rs 2 crore, it sounds lovely. I havenít seen it yet, but it sounds lovely.
Q: You stride two regions 'Tamil Nadu and Andhra 'now Mumbai. Is that a comfortable position' I am actually exclusively with only the Telugu film industry. Itís a huge, vibrant and warm place to work. Itís the largest single state market in the country for motion pictures. I am in a position there, where I can do what I really want. My last release was a film that I wrote myself. It gave me a lot of pleasure and did really well too. So, yes, life is good. RDB hopefully should make things more fun! Good work is more than any actor can ask for. RDB should do a bit in that direction for me.
Q: Tell us about yourself. Where do you come from' I am a Tamil. My school education was spread over Delhi and Chennai. I did my B.Com (Hons) from KMC in Delhi Univ. I got my MBA from the S.P. Jain Institute of Management in Mumbai. Then came the assistant director stint with Mani Ratnam for a couple of years. Acting happened by chance, and the rest is a blur.
Q: Doesnít scarce work scare you' Strangely, scarce work is a really welcome proposition. No work might be really frightening. I havenít been there yet. I want to be proud of my films. Itís much better to show your kids 10 good films, than to make excuses to them about why you made 20 bad ones. Again, good and bad doesnít reflect commercial success. I judge films on how they justify my conviction in them. Itís hugely gratifying when they do.
Q: Southern actors arenít known to be too successful in Bollywood. Do you think you can break that mould' I havenít made any plans yet. Whether I do another Hindi film depends solely on the work I am offered post RDB. I am in no hurry to prove anything to anyone. I have two wonderful Telugu films lined up this year. A good Hindi script would be a great icing on the cake. Letís see.
Q: Youíve worked with Mani and Shankar. Who are the actors you admire in Mumbai and the South' Directors in Mumbai youíd give your right/left arm to work with' I think there is a new breed of directors emerging. These guys are irreverent and want to break the rules, but also have a firm grounding in the good old stuff that makes Indian films so beautiful. I want to work with every single good director. I donít even know their names yet. I havenít signed any films specifically to work with any actor. A good script and a good director should make acting look good. That should do.
Q: Rang De Basanti is a film about changing the status quo. Do you think cinema is capable of doing that' Mehra has made a film that talks about how we complain all the time, but very few of us actually decide to do something about it. It applies to cinema in this country, too. We spend all our time criticising the way our films are made and asking why no one is making a difference. Mehra has done something very important. He has backed his conviction and translated his dream to screen. Aamir has facilitated this glorious celluloid dream. If they are writing the new status quo, sign me up, I am with them all the way.